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2018 Graduates: Judith Castaneda
Linda Mah
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2018 Graduates: Judith Castaneda

Going From Student to Teacher

Education matters.

That’s what Judith Castaneda believes as a student and what she’s planning to preach as a future teacher.

“Education is the key to success,” she said. “Students have to value their educations more. With our education we have everything we need to succeed in life.”

Castaneda is a 2018 graduate of Loy Norrix High School. She was named Outstsanding Senior in the Education For Employment’s (EFE) Teacher Academy. EFE is a program of the Kalamazoo Regional Educational Service Agency that provides students with hands-on experience in various careers.

Castaneda and her twin, Jenny, plan to enroll in Kellogg Community College this fall to earn associate’s degrees in early childhood development and to then earn bachelor’s degrees in education from Western Michigan University.

As a senior, she participated in the KRESA program to explore her interest in teaching and found that she loved it. She worked at El Sol Elementary School, which happened to have been her first elementary as a child.

“It has been the greatest experience I’ve ever had,” she said. “These children are my motivation. When I’m down or sad, they are my reason to be. They make me happy. They make me forget about the little things and make me value the love and smiles. I love to see how they learn on their own and it makes me want to help them.”

She enjoyed working at El Sol for numerous reasons. Her little brother Willie was in third grade at the school, she had the chance to work with teachers who influenced her as a child, and she was able to use her dual language skills.

She appreciated El Sol’s focus on bilingual education — English and Spanish. Her own family, with mom and dad Aurora and Nicolas, twin sister and little brother — is bilingual. She was excited to help children learn in both languages.

“There’s a bene t to having two languages,” Castaneda said. “You’re able to express yourself in two languages. It’s something to take advantage of.”

First-grade teacher Danielle Jn Baptiste served as Castaneda’s teacher mentor at El Sol was impressed with Castaneda’s enthusiasm for the classroom.

“Judy is a driven young woman who is an exemplary EFE student,” she said. “Her natural talents to be an educator shone through as she worked with small groups of students, redirected students, and planned lessons and activities for them, as well. I was extremely impressed with her professionalism.”

Castaneda’s inspiration to pursue education comes not just from her love of children but from the many positive experiences she’s had as a student.

“I love the way my teachers teach, the way when I need help they’re there for me, to support me, to explain things to me,” she said. “They won’t let me struggle by myself. They’ll keep teaching until you get it. They won’t just leave and move on.”

She has trouble citing the most influential teacher in her life, but among the standouts at Loy Norrix have been Lisa Jensen, Jameeka Johnson, Randy Rowe, and Sally Wagenaar.

“I have like 10 favorites,” she said. “They made me realize I have to love the education I have.”

Two other people have inspired her as well: her parents.

“They’ve been the biggest supporters for me and my sister. I feel this now more than ever as we’re finishing high school. I know they won’t always be there with me, but they’ll always be in my heart. They’ve been the biggest blessing that God could have given me, and I want to make them proud.”

Cutline: Judy Castaneda poses next to the mural in El Sol Elementary and points to a picture of herself that she painted when she was a third grader at the school. 

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